Vision & values
Figuring out how the world works, for the sake of knowledge itself, is a vital human endeavor. Scientific research, both fundamental and applied, is absolutely necessary to the functioning of our societies and species. It can also be a wonderful occupation, with the joys of problem-solving, discovery, and collaboration with smart and enthusiastic people. While today’s scientific enterprise has many problems (yesterday’s probably even more so), I consider it a privilege to be paid to solve interesting puzzles about the brain.
Ethics and open science
With this privilege of doing science comes the responsibility of doing it well (or at least, in the best way we can). We’re responsible to taxpayers for getting the most out of their hard-earned euros; to our academic communities for not mislead each other purposefully or waste time on dead-ends; and to ourselves for spending our time well.
To maximize the usefulness of our science, we must do our work ethically and openly. This means being honest (with ourselves and others), transparent, and always open to learning and improving how we work. Collaborate, don’t compete.
Make your work accessible. Publish your paper as a preprint (on bioRxiv, arXiv, psyArXiv or OSF); choose open-access journals; avoid Elsevier when possible; get on Twitter and write accessible summaries of your findings: it’ll even help your career.
Choose open-source. Some of the best investments I’ve made were to switch from Mendeley to Zotero, from Matlab to Python, and from Evernote to Obsidian. Don’t waste your time learning the ins and outs of expensive, proprietary software (please, no SPSS) when free and open alternatives are available. Note: I’m a hypocrite on this point when it comes to Illustrator, which I must one day replace.
Since I’ve started my career, best practices have changed immensely - and I’m not even that old. See here for a take on open science practices from my time as a PhD student. Keep up with the latest developments, and think about ways to improve the work we do.
Code of conduct
As colleagues and members of academic communities (in our research field, university and department), everyone deserves to be treated fairly and respectfully. Unfortunately, science is not immune to sexism, racism, harassment and general bigotry.
We strive a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere and encourage open and honest intellectual debate, which allows everyone in our local and international communities to do their best work and be respected. Call out misconduct when you see it; you can always approach me, or other faculty members in the department.
Take care of yourself: research can be exhausting. As Weiji Ma has said: we’re professional doubters, so doubting ourselves is a real occupational hazard. A certain amount of impostor syndrome is normal, and you will almost certainly find yourself in the valley of shit at some point. Research can be tedious, frustrating and boring, scientific setbacks are normal, and peer review can be downright hostile. Don’t let those define your sense of self-worth: you are not your job!
To stay sane and grounded, remember you’re a whole person: don’t neglect your life outside the lab. Spend time building and maintaining relationships, both inside and outside science: while enthusiasm over results, paper and grants will fade over time, your peers and friends will not. This podcast episode has great advice on career satisfaction and well-being.
If you struggle with mental health, know that you’re not alone, and that resources are available. Leiden University has counsellors and student psychologist services that you can use freely and confidentially. You can always talk to me about any professional or personal circumstances, for advice, or to point out ways in which I should improve/change my ways.
Mentoring and supervision
I expect you to:
- Treat your colleagues, participants and lab equipment with respect.
- Be a team player and good academic citizen: help others, collaborate and share ideas.
- Be physically present in the lab during regular hours, at least a few days a week. I generally encourage you to work during regular office hours, and to be present for departmental events to benefit from the social and scientific interactions. However, apart from times of e.g. data collection or deadlines, the flexibility of science is one of its main perks: take advantage of this, and find out what schedule works best for you.
- If I occasionally email you at unusual times, do not feel obliged to read or respond immediately; email is an asynchronous medium, so set your own boundaries (and other fantastic PhD tips)!
- Take ownership of your research project. You will soon be the expert on the topic!
- I’m here to guide and advise you, not to be your teacher. In a course, your goal may be to get a good grade for an assignment and mine is to assess your work; a research project is a different game where we’re both learning and I’m happy to be shown wrong.
- Be organized. Stick to a consistent and clear organisation scheme for your data (e.g. this one); keep your code version controlled on GitHub; comment your analysis workflows; organize code reviews; learn about best practices in software development. Your future self will thank you.
- Know the limits of your knowledge and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Admit when you are wrong, or made a mistake; be honest with yourself, and with your peers and colleagues.
- Examine your assumptions and expect to be wrong. A lot. Ask someone to be your ‘code buddy’ and replicate your figures, from the data, from scratch.
- Knowing how long to keep trying something, and when to ask for help, is a tremendously useful skill. A useful guideline: if you know what next steps to take (keywords to Google, instructions to follow, control analyses to run) then take them first. If you can no longer identify how to move forward, don’t waste time being stuck and ask for help or advice.
- Ask good questions; indicate what you’ve tried so far, what your current best answer is, and what specific guidance you need.
- Take a proactive role in your career development.
- Take the time to explore your interests, to try things out, and to look widely at careers that may suit you. Ashley Juavinett’s book is a great start.
- Let me know if you want to attend a conference, apply for a (travel) grant, or give a talk.
- Organize your work, and practice good project and time management.
- When we meet, take notes and especially write down the specific action items we’ve agreed on. Not only does this help structure your work, it can also serve as a great reminder for when I inevitably contradict my past self.
- Must-read: Allen D (2001) Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Penguin.
I aspire and promise to:
- Support you in your research and career.
- I will continually assess my own practices as a mentor and supervisor, and improve my own practices to help you flourish as a scientist and person.
- You can make use of the Cognitive Psychology Unit’s mentoring scheme (ask Sander Nieuwenhuis).
- The university encourages a yearly ‘functioneringsgesprek’ (see this form).
- Respond to questions and give feedback in a timely manner.
- I aim to respond to emails in a few days, or at most a week. If something is urgent (e.g. a problem with data collection, a sudden deadline for a grant application) I will usually respond more quickly.
- If you want feedback on your work, a letter of reference, or other input from me, please give me a heads-up a few weeks in advance (e.g. as soon as you know that you’re applying for something, or when you start writing a draft). I can then block off time to go over your work and give feedback quickly. Note that if you then can’t meet this deadline, it may go to the bottom of my priority list and I may be less inclined to prioritize this in the future. So plan ahead, and allow yourself (and me) some buffers.
- Create a fun and supportive learning environment.
- Peer review can be hard, so we will celebrate papers when they are submitted and posted as a preprint.